Faculty Pianist Stephen Porter Revives Classical Compositions

Transitioning from a fluid cascade of notes, Stephen Porter, Adjunct Instructor in Music, began to play the strong, staccato chords of “Sonata in F minor” by Ludwig van Beethoven. The chords increased in volume and climaxed with a final, powerful note.

“Sonata in F minor” was the final piece performed on Saturday night in the Cochran Chapel as part of Porter’s faculty piano recital.

Porter began the concert with “Melodie, Op. 47 No. 3” by Edvard Grieg. The smooth notes and repeated rhythms resembled soft rain and created a gentle and somber atmosphere. Throughout the piece, the speed dramatically increased and decreased, creating moments of urgency. At the end of the piece, the music slowed and seemed to drift away.

“The three pieces by Grieg are called ‘Lyric Pieces’. I thought they were a nice way to start off the program — the ‘Melodie’ is rather haunting, and the other two are very evocative of childhood and memories of the past, which I thought fit nicely with Andover,” wrote Porter in an email to The Phillipian.

Porter dedicated his next piece, Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” to Christopher Walter, Instructor in Music. The piece was transcribed by Myra Hess, a British pianist who played weekly concerts during World War II. The piece served as a homage to Walter’s birthplace in London, beginning with a fluid and simple melody before jumping into a playful and lively tune in the second half of the song.

Porter said, “I wanted to do it as a surprise for Mr. Walter, because he’s done so much for the school… I knew that the piece would mean a lot to him. The circumstances of the piece [also] goes to show that music does not depend on things like wars and disagreements and all the horrible things that human beings can do, so that was a very, very important lesson for all of us to know.”

Porter continued with three works by Frédéric Chopin. The pieces showcased his musical ability and his interpretations of each piece. The second of the three pieces, “Waltz, Op. 64 No. 2,” stood out with its intricate and light runs. The waltz was written in a minor key, giving it a dark and eerie feel. Porter, however, added a brighter touch and played the repeating scales and themes gently rather than heavily. This interpretation gave the piece a more airy and light atmosphere.

Evelyn Wu ’18, an audience member, said, “He had an excellent interpretation of all the pieces… Specifically I would like to say Chopin’s “Waltz”, because that piece is actually pretty popular, and a lot of performers like to play it… Usually the interpretation is more heavy, because it’s usually seen as a dark piece… but when he played it, it was very light and also it flowed off of his fingers like it was on air.”

Porter continued with “Nocturne, Op. 62 No. 2” by Chopin. Starting slowly and gently, the piece consisted of several variations on a single theme. The slow nature of the beginning created a meditative feel. As Porter repeated the variations, he increased the speed and volume of the piece to create an angrier tone before turning back to the softer melody once more.

For his final piece, Porter played Beethoven’s “Sonata in F minor, Op. 57.” The first movement, “Allegro assai,” began simply, with a repeating theme. As the piece continued, variations of the theme appeared, each more elaborate and layered than before. As a result of the complexity, it seemed as if four different voices were singing in harmony.

Wu said, “[The piece] started off with a basic skeleton — with a very simple progression of notes — and then after that, as he kept repeating the same motif, more embellishments and dynamic were added so that when [the piece] reached its climax, it was really magnificent. It really seemed like the vivid, colorful, glorious piece that [Porter] had imagined.”